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Sporting Kansas City looks to add bolstered offense to formidable defense for 2018

Sporting Kansas City midfielder Ilie Sanchez passes the ball under pressure from Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri during the first half at Kino Sports Complex. (Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports)

It was another year, another first-round loss in the playoffs for Sporting Kansas City in 2017. For the fourth consecutive year, the team will look to build a season that takes down the proverbial knockout round wall come October.

It all starts offensively.

Sporting struggled mightily to convert chances last year, finishing in the bottom five in Major League Soccer for goals scored. The 2018 preseason has been a busy one, with Sporting bringing in several new faces (see below) to improve that offense.

But it will be the old faces that will lead the team defensively, where Sporting thrived last year.

Tim Melia is back after taking home MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors and only allowing 29 goals in 2017. Ike Opara, who also earned hardware as MLS Defender of the Year, will anchor the back line, along with veteran Matt Besler.

Sporting KC to open 2018 season at home against NYCFC

When: March 4, 6:30 p.m. CST

Where: Children’s Mercy Park

Broadcast: Fox Sports 1, TSN

Live stream: MLS Live

The buzz: Khiry Shelton, Sporting’s newly acquired striker, will have an immediate chance to perform against his old team. Shelton was NYCFC’s first-ever draft pick in 2015, and was traded away in the offseason. In 54 appearances for New York, he had six goals and 10 assists, and is now set to compete for a starting striker spot in Kansas City. Sporting has a somewhat new-look offense surrounding Shelton as well, after adding several new options during preseason. This will be the first chance to see how its offense has improved after scoring only 40 goals in 34 MLS matches last year.

Other key matches

Saturday, June 23, vs. Houston – Children’s Mercy Park will likely be riled up for this one, a rematch of last year’s knockout round playoffs match, which Kansas City lost 1-0. The teams had a storied history, even before last year: Sporting won the Eastern Conference championship over the Dynamo in 2013. Houston also took them out of the postseason in 2011 and 2012 on its way to consecutive MLS Cup appearances.

Saturday, Aug. 11, at Los Angeles FC – This will be Sporting’s first match not only against new MLS squad Los Angeles FC, but against former players Benny Feilhaber and Latif Blessing. LAFC acquired Blessing in its expansion draft, and Sporting Kansas City traded Feilhaber west to play for Bob Bradley, his former USMNT coach.

Check out the full 2018 schedule here.

Quotes and Notes

Head coach Peter Vermes, on adding new players late in the offseason: “I believe the first 10 games are kind of your way of finding out who you really are, and what you have and maybe what you need. So the fact that we’ve gained some guys late but I’ve seen their qualities, I know that over those 10 games that we’re going to grow into something that’s gonna be, I think pretty competitive in the league. And that’s always our number one goal, to be competitive, and I think we have a group that can be.”

Defender Matt Besler, on what he’s taken from preseason: “To be honest, I don’t know if you can take a lot from preseason, results-wise. We’re very focused on ourselves. There’s certain things that we want to try and get accomplished…introducing our concepts, how do we want to play out of the back, how we want to press the other team, set pieces, what certain situations look like. We’ve accomplished all those goals. As far as results, though, of where we stand compared to other teams, you can’t really make any comparisons. You could win all your preseason games 10-0 or you could lose all your preseason games 10-0, and it’s not going to mean anything come the first regular season game. That’s where we’re at; everything is pushed aside now and we have to get ready for Sunday.”

Biggest offseason moves

  • Traded veteran midfielder Benny Feilhaber to Los Angeles FC, where he’ll reunite with former national team head coach Bob Bradley. LAFC also snatched Latif Blessing in its expansion draft.
  • Traded defender Saad Abdul-Salaam to NYCFC for striker Khiry Shelton, who will compete for time at the striker position this year.
  • Signed Johnny Russell away from Derby County, bringing in an attacking option from Europe.
  • Added two designated players, midfielders Yohan Croizet (France), and Felipe Gutierrez (Chile). Look for both to add creativity to Sporting KC’s offensive attack.

Roster breakdown

Forwards – Diego Rubio, Khiry Shelton, Johnny Russell, Yohan Croizet, Kharlton Belmar, Daniel Salloi, Gerso Fernandes

Midfielders – Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez, Jimmy Medranda, Christian Lobato, Ilie Sanchez, Gianluca Busio

Defenders – Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi, Brad Evans, James Musa, Emiliano Amor, Amer Didic, Graham Smith, Seth Sinovic, Jaylin Lindsey, Matt Lewis, Colton Storm

Goalkeepers – Tim Melia, Adrian Zendejas, Eric Dick

See full roster details here.

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